Last week the students on my course Digital Education in Global Context were looking at social media, and talking about the spiral of silence that can cause some to avoid posting on it. I check Twitter every day for useful links and an oversight of the news from those I follow, but don’t tweet much, because many of those who follow me are colleagues and students, while most of what I would want to tweet are political observations, jokes and random things spotted online. I get caught the other way when I want to tweet digital education links and observations to colleagues and students, but know that other people who follow me won’t care about them.

Here, though, I feel no reluctance to post random stuff, although I do feel reluctant to post here much during semester, when I should be posting and commenting on course sites instead. In recent years I haven’t even been bothered that nobody comments much here. In the early years of blogging we tended to form loose communities, commenting on each other’s blogs across the much smaller blogosphere. Many of my posts from 2000–2007 have comments from other bloggers on them, and there are many of mine on theirs; some of them even led to real-life friendships. But in 2007 I took a break for a year, and since my return have had hardly any; a handful a year, even if I post a lot.

It wasn’t just that the audience left during my hiatus, although many will have; all of our blog-commenting habits changed as we moved onto social media, even if we kept blogging. Part of it was that Google changed its algorithms in the late 2000s so that blogs didn’t rank as highly in search results as they once did, meaning that random visitors were less frequent. Part of it was the inexorable rise of comment spam, which prompted many bloggers to switch off comments. Whatever it was, public blogging has become a fairly commentless pursuit for most bloggers—even blogs that are widely read (as indicated, for example, by their authors’ Twitter following).

It happened here, which at first was dispiriting, but after a while I realised that I didn’t mind if the audience was silent, or small, because I was blogging for myself as much as for an audience. I recently saw sites like mine described as “digital gardens”, which I suppose captures it. A garden can be very personal, a hobby, a creative outlet, a source of private pleasure and sustenance, but can also be public, or at least visible to the public from the street—something that others can enjoy as well. You wouldn’t expect every passerby to knock on your door to tell you how much they like your flowers.

3 December 2020 · Net Culture